Having failed his course at the Shanghai Academy of Art, Yan Pei Ming moved to France in 1980 at the age of 20 to study at the Dijon Art Academy. Yan has since exhibited extensively internationally, participating in major exhibitions throughout Europe and finally holding his first exhibition in China in 2005 with Homage to my Father at the Shanghai Art Museum.
Yan's practice is dominated by his interest in portraiture. He paints, primarily, gigantic monochromatic heads. His subjects range from the iconic, such as Mao Zedong or Bruce Lee, to self-portraits or portraits of anonymous or invented subjects. Between these two extremes lies Yan's own search for identity and for the ideal representation of contemporary Chinese identity in an international context.
For the artist, painting is a necessity of everyday life. He has stated, "I believe that painting always exists. This is the simplest medium. You only need frames, canvases, paint, and brushes. This is the way to use the minimum means to achieve that maximum effect." His self-imposed limitations lead to maximum dramatic effect. Yan works with an extremely wide brush as a way of prioritizing the formal element of his works. Their structure, which can be almost sculptural their modeling, only appears when viewed at a distance. When viewed up close however, the image disappears in a sea of rapid, intuitive, and gestural brushstrokes. In Head, Yan's desire to depict a "universal being" is pursued through balancing a representational figure and the exploration of the fleeting nature of identity.